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Let’s put the wheat board debate to bed

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I think for space purposes part of the throne speech highlights I wrote got cut off in today’s paper.

I had wanted to include Steven Fletcher’s response to Pat Martin’s comments about the Wheat Board.

Martin – and a few others I spoke to yesterday – were upset the Conservatives included a line about ending the Wheat Board monopoly in the speech from the throne. The speech was for the most part lacking any of the controversial issues from the Conservative platform, mentioning justice issues only in vague terms for example.

But they did include mention of the Wheat Board issue, which in Manitoba has been one of the more contentious between the MPs, and the provincial and federal governments, since the 2006 election.

Fletcher’s response was cut from the paper. He said to know where the people affected by the Wheat Board decision stand you only have to look at the results of the election in the prairies, where the Conservatives won 49 of 56 seats.

"It was very clear what our position was on the wheat board," said Fletcher. "The people the Wheat Board involves the most are farmers and every seat in the rural prairies is Conservative."

Fletcher has a point. You can’t use the election as a referendum on the wheat board but certainly you can use it to suggest there was no great uprising among prairie voters on the issue.

But what this says to me really is that the government needs to get back and hold a proper referendum among the wheat board farmers on the issue. For more than 2.5 years this issue has been clouded by mirky politicking and questionable claims.

There are a number of lobby groups pushing information on both sides. There have been court challenges, legislation, regulatory changes. Meanwhile farmers are left from one month to the next without knowing what might happen.

It’s a mess.

The government should immediately hold a proper referendum and end this divisive issue now. Ask farmers specifically whether they want the wheat board to have a monopoly or not. Yes or no. Not this three-way do you sort of kind of want a wheat board namby pamby business.

Then get on with implementing the results. If the government is so sure it has the backing of farmers it shouldn’t be afraid to ask the yes or no question. If the government doesn’t have the backing of farmers it shouldn’t be trying to eliminate the monopoly.

The government asked three questions on the last ballot but then added two of the answers together to say that many farmers wanted to end the monopoly. By that logic, the results of the last election should take the votes for the left-leaning parties and add them together and say the Conservatives didn’t win.

It doesn’t work like that and it shouldn’t.

I can also only imagine what uproar there would have been in the last Quebec referendum if there were three questions on the ballot – stay in Canada, leave Canada or a hybrid of the two.

It’s time to end the wheat board debate once and for all and let farmers get on with the business of growing high-quality food for Canadians and abroad, rather than worrying what kind of marketing system they’re going to have to use to sell their product.

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About Mia Rabson

Mia Rabson is a born and bred Winnipegger whose interest in politics seemed clear when she dressed up as Prime Minister Brian Mulroney for Halloween in the 7th grade.

Her interest in writing was no surprise to her parents, who learned early in Mia’s life that no piece of blank paper — or wall, for that matter — was safe in her hands.

She holds an honours BA in English from Queen’s University, a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Western Ontario, and has completed a political journalism fellowship in Washington, D.C. with the Washington Centre for Politics and Journalism.

Prior to working for the Winnipeg Free Press, Mia briefly worked for the Detroit News in the paper’s Washington bureau.

Mia joined the Free Press team in February 2001, and in April 2001 was appointed to the Manitoba legislature bureau. In December 2004, she was appointed bureau chief at the legislature. She became the newspaper’s parliamentary bureau chief/national reporter in Ottawa in January 2008.

In 2008 she was nominated for a Michener Award with a team of reporters from the Free Press for its coverage of the province’s child welfare system.

She counts reliving the invasion at Dieppe, France, with veterans of the failed Second World War expedition and overcoming her fear of heights to touch the Golden Boy statue atop the Legislative Building among her favourite experiences as a reporter.

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